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Slides for my talk on how to talk about science to a general audience, given at Anticipation, the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal.

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  1. 1. Talking to My Dog About Science<br />How to Talk Science to Non-Scientists and Why It Matters<br />I like cheese<br />Chad Orzel<br /><br />
  2. 2. Public Knowledge<br />What’s the problem?<br />Science literacy<br /> among public is<br /> depressingly bad<br />(Note: Not just a US<br /> problem)<br />NSF Science and Engineering Indicators, 2008<br />
  3. 3. Public Attitudes<br />The general public likes science…<br />87% support Federal funding<br />41% favor spending more<br />(ahead of defense, space, foreign aid)<br />87% interested in new discoveries<br />47% “a lot” of interest<br />… when they notice it.<br />only 15% follow science news “very closely”<br />10th place– sports gets 23%, religion 16%<br />(NSF Science & Engineering indicators 2008)<br />
  4. 4. Funding Consequences<br />Public favors funding,<br />but not a priority<br />Lots of money for<br />“crises,” then lose<br />interest<br />Science funding is<br />easily cut<br />easy to ridicule<br />no strong <br /> constituency<br /> No electoral consequences for cutting science funding<br />
  5. 5. Who Should We Blame?<br />Who caused the disconnect between science and general public?<br />Politicians?<br />Tempting, but no…<br />Religion?<br />Lots of religious scientists<br />Teachers?<br />Doing the best they can…<br />My claim: <br />WE HAVE FAILED AT OUR JOBS AS SCIENTISTS<br />
  6. 6. What Is Science?<br />Science is a process for learning about the world:<br />1) Look at the world<br />Find some interesting phenomenon to explain<br />2) Make up a theory<br />Develop a model to explain the phenomenon<br />3) Test your theory<br />Design experiments, make observations to test model<br />4) Tell everyone about it<br />Publication, dissemination, replication<br />
  7. 7. History<br />1) Look at the world<br />2) Make up a theory<br />3) Test your theory<br />4) Tell everyone about it<br />First two steps go back to antiquity <br />Aristotle, Pythagoreans, etc.<br />Lots of nifty ideas, many totally wrong<br />No systematic culture of experiment<br />
  8. 8. History<br />1) Look at the world<br />2) Make up a theory<br />3) Test your theory<br />4) Tell everyone about it<br />Step 3 becomes established in 1600’s<br />Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)<br />Experiments allow you to distinguish between theories<br />Systematic study of mechanics, astronomy<br />(roughly contemporary developments in medicine, etc.)<br />
  9. 9. History<br />1) Look at the world<br />2) Make up a theory<br />3) Test your theory<br />4) Tell everyone about it<br />R. Hooke<br />Step 4: Surprisingly late catching on<br />Robert Hooke, 1676: “ceiiinossssttuv”<br />“uttensio, sic vis” <br /> F=-kx<br />Step 4 separates science from alchemy<br />Stand on “shoulders of giants”<br />
  10. 10. Models of Publication<br />Two models of approaching scientific communication:<br />Sir Isaac Newton<br />(1642-1727)<br />Galileo Galilei<br />(1564-1642)<br />(hat-tip: Robert Krulwich, WNYC Radiolab)<br />
  11. 11. Newtonian Publication<br />Most famous work:<br />PhilosophiaeNaturalis<br />Principia Mathematica<br />(published 1687)<br />Written in Latin, highly technical, highly mathematical<br />Deliberately difficult, “to avoid being baited by little smatterers<br /> in mathematicks”<br />
  12. 12. Galileian Publication<br />Most famous work:<br />Dialogue Concerning the <br />Two Chief World Systems<br />(published 1632)<br />Written in vernacular, dialogue between three characters<br />Witty, accessible, highly readable, and persuasive<br />Banned, but widely read and influential<br />
  13. 13. Results<br />Outcomes of different publication models:<br />Newton<br />Master of the Mint<br />Galileo:<br />The Inquisition<br />Lesson of History:<br />Newtonian Publication Is Better For Your Career<br />
  14. 14. Newton Lives<br />Same pattern still holds today<br />Newtonian publication preferred<br />Hiring, promotion, prestige depend on technical publications<br /> aimed at a narrow audience of other scientists<br />Science, not Scientific American<br />Galileian publication discounted or ignored<br />Even pedagogical research doesn’t fully “count”<br />
  15. 15. What to Do?<br />Public knowledge and appreciation of science are not very good<br />As scientists, we need to do a better job<br />Engage public interest<br />Create a constituency for science<br /> More Galileian approach to science<br />The opportunity (and audience) exists<br />
  16. 16. What to Do?<br />Support the people who bring science to the general public:<br /> Buy and promote science books<br /> Demand science from the media<br /> Support science education across the board<br />Not just hot-button issues<br /> Train and support science teachers<br /> Encourage science students in other careers<br /> Encourage good communicators<br />Move beyond “Get back in the lab!”<br /> Reward outreach at tenure and promotion reviews<br />Make talking to the public a positive<br />Encourage Galileos, don’t force them to be Newtons<br />
  17. 17. So You Want to Be Galileo…<br />How do you go about communicating science to the general public?<br />Similar to asking “How do you write a bestselling SF novel?”<br />No single, foolproof method<br />Have to find what works for you<br />As many strategies as there are popularizers<br />Can suggest some general approaches<br />NOTE: Not about “dumbing down” or condescending to audience<br />Ways to make real science appealing to non-scientists<br />
  18. 18. Make It About People<br />Science is done by humans  tell the human story behind the science<br />
  19. 19. Make It Relevant<br />Tie science to previously existing interests<br />
  20. 20. Make It Look Pretty<br />Compelling images worth many kwords<br />
  21. 21. Make It Entertaining<br />National Academy of Sciences initiative<br />Put writers and producers in touch with scientists<br /><br />
  22. 22. Make It Participatory<br />Learn science by doing science: Hands-on experiences<br />
  23. 23. Make It Explode<br />Fire is cool<br />
  24. 24. Make it Whimsical<br />Wit and humor go a long way toward making technical subjects palatable<br />
  25. 25. What About the Dog?<br />January, 2007:<br />“Bunnies Made of Cheese”<br />Imaginary conversation <br /> about QED<br />The dog is standing at the window, wagging her tail excitedly. I look outside, and the back yard is empty.<br />&quot;What are you looking at?&quot; I ask.<br />&quot;Bunnies made of cheese!,&quot; she says. I look again, and the yard is still empty.<br />Dramatic Reading:<br />(CNET Buzz Podcast, ~2min)<br />Emmy, Queen of Niskayuna<br />
  26. 26. Many Worlds, Many Treats<br />May 2007:<br />I&apos;m sitting at the computer typing, when the dog bumps up against my legs. I look down, and she&apos;s sniffing the floor around my feet intently.<br />&quot;What are you doing down there?“<br />&quot;I&apos;m looking for steak!&quot; she says, wagging her tail hopefully.<br />&quot;I&apos;m pretty certain that there&apos;s no steak down there,&quot; I say. &quot;I&apos;ve never eaten steak at the computer, and I&apos;ve certainly never dropped any on the floor.“<br />&quot;You did in some universe,&quot; she says, still sniffing.<br />
  27. 27. Bunnies Made of Cheese: The Book<br />“Many Worlds, Many Treats” linked by BoingBoing, Digg<br /> more than 50,000 readers<br />How to Teach Physics to Your Dog<br />Scribner, December 22, 2009<br />Mixes dog conversations with<br /> physics explanations<br />Explain quantum mechanics<br /> to general audience<br />
  28. 28. Other Suggestions<br />1) Be Patient  It’s always 101 for somebody<br />Same questions all the time, but from different people<br />2) Start a Weblog<br />Cheap and easy way to reach large audience<br />Get practice writing for an audience<br />3) Volunteer for outreach efforts<br />Schools often happy to have outside speakers<br />4) Learn to talk to the media<br />Sound bites, talking on camera, etc.<br />
  29. 29. Conclusions<br />Public understanding, support for science shaky<br />Feast-or-famine funding instability<br />Academic culture does not reward public outreach<br />Technical, “Newtonian” publication preferred<br />Claim: Need more outreach to build constituency for science<br />“Galileian” publication<br />Lots of strategies for talking to the general public<br />Find what works for you<br />